It probably doesn’t come as a surprise after looking at Jackie Wilson’s sculpted physique that he has always loved sports. It was something that he was born into and he took to from a very young age.
“I grew up in a family where sports and physical activity were part of our daily routines,” Wilson remembers. “Between watching and playing sports, I am pretty sure that I have had some level of interaction with sports almost every day of my life.”
The streak continues to this day, since not only does he workout first thing after he gets out of bed (even if it is 2 a.m.), but also because he is a premier trainer whose entrepreneurial spirit is revolutionizing the fitness industry.
His most recent venture, NOVA FITNESS, has taken electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), a tool that activates your muscles using electrical impulses that was primarily used for injury recovery and rehabilitation, and applied it to fitness. The result is the perfect combination of technological innovation and old fashion sweating-it-out-at-the gym.
Investors see such promise in an idea that allows busy folks to get a better workout in less time that they’ve backed Wilson’s idea with $3 million in funding. It’s not surprising that these big-time players see Wilson as a good bet. His whole life is about sports and competing to be his very best—and to get his clients to reach their full potential as well.
Here he tells us how he turned his passion into a career, what’s the worst part about being an entrepreneur, and what he does when he’s not at the gym (take a wild guess).
THE SPORTING LIFE
Like most of us, Wilson’s passion came from watching his mom and dad get after their own fitness goals. “My parents worked out almost every day of my childhood and I can remember doing push-ups and sit-ups before I was old enough to go to school!” he recalls. After having the desire to be physically fit instilled in him from a very young age, Wilson took it upon himself to take that passion to the next level.
In high school, it started with research, reading Men’s Health and other fitness magazines to get inspiration and learn the ins and out of training. Once he understood what he wanted to do he would not only apply it to himself in the gym but also bring it to others.
“I would design drills and workout routines for my teammates to do with me so that we were in perfect shape for the upcoming season,” he explains. “Witnessing their physical progress and our success on the court was an awesome feeling that I eventually became addicted to.” By his senior year in high school, he was training several of his friends in addition to running drills for the teams he was playing on.
You’re probably thinking that’s it. Wilson found what he loved doing and has kept on doing it since high school. Well, not exactly. After high school, he attended Duke University and received a degree in Public Policy and African American studies. From there he went on to law school at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 2007.
At both these schools, he continued to train himself and others, and when got out he kept his focus on sports, this time as an agent at All Pro Sports & Entertainment. That’s right, he went full Jerry Maguire, repping NFL and NBA players, and helping them with their contracts, endorsements, and brand development.
As someone who is always pushing himself to be his best self, he learned a lot from working with the cream of the crop and seeing what got them to the top of their game: namely an unrelenting work ethic.
“The margins between being good and great are oftentimes small enough that increased effort is the difference-maker,” Wilson says. “Excellence is addictive and you instantly want your effort to match theirs. The beauty of that type of work ethic is that it travels with you beyond the sports arena. That same drive is necessary to be the best of the best in any field.”
The field that kept calling back to Wilson was fitness and sports. After all, they are his true love. That’s why, while still an agent, he started his first business, JackFit, which provides customized virtual workouts, instructional videos, and innovative personal and group training. A couple of years later, he decided to make fitness his full-time career and left the agency.
While Wilson’s clients were doing great and getting fit, Wilson wasn’t content to leave well enough alone. As anyone who plays and workouts out as hard as he does, Wilson has dealt with his share of injuries, especially when he was younger. Back then was the first time he learned about Electric Muscle Stimulation and how it worked.
“Years later, I started hearing about elite athletes such as Usain Bolt and Miguel Cabrera using EMS as a means to enhance their athletic performance,” he recalls. “This sparked my initial interest and made me want to not only try it on myself, but use it to push my clients differently than traditional working out.”
Wilson did just this. He took the EMS technology, which is usually targeted at one muscle or body part at a time, and expanded it to the whole body. He did this by creating the “power suit”, which has 20 pre-placed electrodes built into it. Using a tracker on an iPad, this allows the trainer to not only see the exertion levels of the client, but also change the EMS stimulation intensity depending on real-time technical data.
In comparison to a regular workout, Nova Fitness’ website says that EMS “activates 90% of a muscle versus the normal 50% when exercising, it allows for a deeper, more intense muscle contraction without extra stress or strain on your body.”
This type of unique fitness experience is perfect for the type of people who come to Wilson’s studio for the group classes and private training sessions. “The common characteristic of all of my clients is the desire to be a better version of themselves,” Wilson says. “Whether they are looking to improve athletic performance, improve strength while reducing fat, or simply trying to stave off illness, everyone is working towards a goal of self-improvement.”
HEAD FOR BUSINESS
As you can imagine, when it comes to physical training Wilson has a wealth of knowledge that he brings to every interaction with his clients in his gym. But let’s not forget that he’s also started two successful businesses so that he also has a lot of worthwhile advice for would-be entrepreneurs. Let’s also not forget that despite the impressive nature of his degrees, he didn’t study finance or go to business school so everything he knows he learned on the job.
The first thing he picked up is that his mental strength had to be equal to or even surpass the physical power he had developed working out for so many years. “There’s an isolating feeling that can come with being an entrepreneur because it requires you to push the action all of the time,” he says.
To combat the sense of isolation, Wilson advises other people who are starting their own company to branch out and make as many connections as possible.
“You are not alone! Seek out others in your industry and seek their advice,” he exclaims. “Having mentors in your industry can help you avoid a lot of common mistakes and help put you in touch with the right people that can help propel your business.”
Another trait Wilson shares with a lot of other self-made types is that he doesn’t let a setback turn into a roadblock. Instead, he flips every unsuccessful action into a positive, an ideology he calls “failing successfully.” “In every shortcoming, there is a lesson or experience that you can take from that and improve on the next opportunity,” Wilson explains. “It’s because of this, that I do not have a fear of failing.”
This fearlessness is also a big part of his management style. He’s not a fan of micro-managing and worrying about if someone is going to do something wrong. Instead, he lets people make their own way, just as he has.
“I believe that people operate more effectively when they take ownership of a duty or task,” he says. “I like to teach my team how to get it done, and then allow them to run the ball on the duty or task. Once a team member learns, they then take on the duty of teaching someone else.”
This sort of flexibility makes Wilson a great boss to work for—that is of course unless you are Wilson himself because when it comes to his personal system of success, he’s got a rigid set of rules that he lives and works (out) by.
“Rule #1 is workout every day. Regardless of how early my day starts, the first thing that I do is workout,” he says. “Rule #2 is to make a list of everything that I want or need to accomplish that day. And Rule #3 is that my day doesn’t end until I accomplish everything on the list.”
FAMILY, FUN & FITNESS
A lot of entrepreneurs have a hard time leaving the office behind and Wilson, as his rules show, is no different. “When you are an entrepreneur, it can be easy to get lost in the work and never step away,” he notes. It actually might be a little harder for Wilson because his business is based on energy—both using it and creating more of it—so relaxing is almost counterintuitive to who he is and what he does.
But another key aspect of his personality that has helped him succeed also allows him to offset the personal and professional drive that has made him successful. “I am a planner. My friends and family may say that I am an over-planner,” jokes Wilson. So not only does Wilson arrange his business day, but he also has his off-hours planned and placed into his weekly calendar.
“Scheduling my downtime is very helpful for keeping my sanity,” he acknowledges. “For one, everyone needs to power down at some point. But equally as important, is that it gives a light at the end of the tunnel. It allows me to work full speed while knowing that there is a guaranteed mental break coming in the future.”
The time that Wilson looks forward to the most is the memorable moments he gets to make with Tripp and Clay, his sons who just so happen to be his biggest fans. “It has been awesome watching the two of them grow and develop their own personalities,” Wilson says.
As you can imagine their character traits aren’t far from what defines their dad as well. “Tripp loves boxing, basketball, and working out. So we spend a lot of time doing that,” Wilson raves. “And Clay is pure energy. Running, jumping, climbing, punching, and hugging. He’s all over the place and I love it!”
With two energetic boys, what Wilson does for fun sounds a lot like what he does for work. You probably guessed what it is. Sports. “I am a huge sports fan. Notre Dame football and Duke basketball are by far my favorite teams to watch,” Wilson reveals. “A lot of my downtime is centered around one of my hometown teams or playing sports with my sons.”
While the family loves to take part in just about any athletic endeavor, it’s the sweet science that brings the whole clan together. “Boxing has become a passion of mine. I love the strategy, athleticism, and concentration that it requires,” Wilson says. “And now that my sons have started watching and enjoying boxing, it’s become a family activity.”
But it’s more than just the camaraderie and fitness benefits that excite Wilson about getting in the ring. “It’s the only thing that I do throughout the day that does not involve me actively thinking about different things while I multitask,” Wilson explains. That means a lot coming from a guy who is always on.
It may be hard to believe, but there are times when Wilson isn’t working, working out, or going a million miles an hour with his family. One of these times is winter in New York City when he walks the streets to take in the different neighborhoods of Manhattan.
“The freezing temperatures are easy to forget when you are lost in the lights, decoration, and festive energy that encompasses New York City during the holidays,” Wilson says. “It’s simply undefeated!” The same could be said for him.